Over And Above – Crossing The Arctic Circle
August 1 to August 10 – 59 cyclists cycled 2,018 kilometers over 10 days from Oslo in Norway through Kiruna in Sweden up to Rovaniemi in Finland.
Day 0 The Main Team Arrives
The team arrived at the local school in Honefoss – Norway at 7 am, after having travelled 1 hour by coach from Oslo Airport, and after an almost 2 hour delay in Malta.
There, they were greeted by the 13 members who had arrived 3 days ago to transport the bikes and foodstuff, and who had made the necessary arrangements regarding transport and accomodation
In spite of the evident tiredness, the cyclists went eagerly looking for their bikes and most of them set to work with great zeal, to re-assemble it. The day was relatively easy, with most cyclists taking periodic naps to fuel up energy for the 10 days ahead.
The day also served for further team building, with cyclists and backup taking the opportunity of this rest day to build a stronger relationship between themselves and experience being the full team for the first time in a confined environment.
Mass was held in the late afternoon, after which a hot meal taken, and then most retired early, in readiness for tomorrow’s ride to Fagerness.
Day 1 Honefoss – Fagerness 128kms
Today’s wake up call was at 6am however all the cyclists woke up earlier, eager to start the Travelex Lifecycle Challenge. The camp was buzzing with excitement as the cyclists had breakfast, made their last minute packing, handed in their luggage, and all gathered for the day’s briefing and morning prayer.
The challenge started officially at eight with the groups leaving every ten minutes. The cyclists were given detailed descript cards of the route while route signs were laid out by a lead vehicle. The weather was warm with long spells of sunshine, and very good visibility, quite unlike yesterday’s gloomy skies and continuous drizzle. The team had two checkpoints amidst beautiful scenery then cycled another 25km to arrive at Fagerness after passing through the village of Aurdal. All teams were clocked in safely by 3pm, an easy day with just 128km, yet today’s ride can be seen as a warming up to the difficult challenging days ahead.
Day 2 Fagerness – Dombas 227kms
Today everybody woke up with a feeling of excitement and anticipation for what lay ahead. After yesterday’s short ride, the “real” Travelex Lifecycle begins with over 200km to be covered each day, the longest being next Saturday 5th august where the cyclists will be faced with a daunting 270km. today’s ride covered 227km but none the less daunting as the cyclists struggled up steep gradients, some at 8-10% with sharp u bends from 3km to a gruelling 8km long. Indeed these uphills took the team from the village of Fagerness at 300m above sea level all the way up Valdres – 1380m above sea level. The weather did not help with heavy rain and biting cold at the peak of Valdres. Thankfully, it was then mostly downhill to Dombas, although attention still had to be exercised as the bends were tight and could prove dangerous. The scenery was fabulous with areas varying from total wilderness to ski resorts, such as Beitostolan, a busy tourist centre in summer. Some of the villages passed included leira, slibre, ron, randsverk, vagamo, lalm, otta, and finally Dombas were some cyclists were expected to check in as late as 10pm. As can be expected injuries started rearing their ugly head, with cyclists needing immediate attention by the medical team, with one cyclist having finally to succumb to his injury. This was the first drop out of the challenge, but not unexpected, considering the extreme physical demand of this endurance feat.
Day 3 Dombas – Trondheim 198kms
This morning the cyclists were already feeling the effects of yesterday’s cold weather and their long and difficult ride with several of them complaining of tight and painful muscles that required massage, physiotherapy and pain relief. In spite of the pain, the cyclists were all looking forward to their third day of the challenge. The team set off in beautiful weather at the usual eight minute interval with the fastest team leaving last; however just before the first checkpoint another cyclist Graziella Santillo gave in to severe knee pain and had to stop the challenge. All was settled and the teams set off again. Some time later an urgent call was made by the backup vehicle that one of the cyclists had had a bad fall. Cyclist Nadine Grech was attended to by Dr. Stephanie Dalli and was then taken to hospital by ambulance accompanied by a back up vehicle. Nadine’s injuries were mainly a bad blow to the shoulder and some facial lacerations that needed suturing. Nonetheless she needed to be observed at the hospital and have the necessary x-rays taken. Shaken and hurt her biggest disappointment was not being able to continue with the Travelex Lifecycle ~Challenge. In the meantime, two back up vehicles were on the road and arrangements were made that one of the advanced vehicles replaces the one that had accompanied Nadine to hospital. The rest of the team continued all the way to Trondheim, a major city in Norway. The route included some steep inclines of between 6 and 8 percent and undulating descents. The team also had to enter four short tunnels and had to wait for police clearance before being able to cycle on the E6, the highway taking them straight to Trondheim. Then it was straight to the school that was to be their night’s accommodation. The team spirit could be felt very strongly today as cyclists worried more about Nadine’s injuries than about their own aches and pains.
Day 4 Trondheim – Grong 202kms
The Travelex Lifecycle team left en masse early this morning from Rosenborg Skole, their nights’ accommodation in Trondheim. They all cycled together to the port, Escorted by the support cars they boarded the ferry, crossing the first fjord of the challenge. Upon arrival they left in their usual groups of 5 to 6 cyclists with 8 minute intervals. In contrast to yesterday’s ride, the scenery was spectacular with barely any traffic on the roads, with picturesque views and spectacular scenery.
The weather was sunny and hot, and therefore the support team made sure they kept all the cyclists well hydrated. The Physiotherapists were also very busy massaging muscles and tending to saddle sores.
As expected, the long country route also led to the need of bike maintenance along the route, a job continued at the accommodation to avoid the possibility of bike breakdown the following day.
One other dropout marred this otherwise beautiful day as Shanel Attard‘s knee injury proved too much for her to continue. Shanel’s disappointment was felt greater since this cyclist had managed to finish last year’s challenge.
Although the cyclists will be arriving late tonight after a 202km cycle, they will be having an early night in preparation for tomorrow’s ride – 270km, the longest ride for the Lifecycle team yet.
Day 5 Grong – Korgen 270kms
The dreaded day arrived with the longest distance ever to be covered in one day – a phenomenal 270km carrying the team all the way from Grong to Korgen in Nordland. The cyclists tried to joke about today’s ride but, in reality, most were worried that the long ride might bring about injuries that might make them drop out from the challenge.
This is understandable that the body can only take so much and an ultra feat such as the Travelex Lifecycle challenge is so physically demanding that joints and muscles can become very tender and inflamed leading to severe pain and agony.
Today, one such injury led to another cyclist having to drop out of the challenge – Vicky Degaetano – who had to stop because of severe pain in the knee.
To add fire to the fuel, today’s route again includes some steep and undulating climbs and a 50km OFFROAD Course!!!
Again, the weather was sunny and hot and the support team made sure that the cyclists were well-hydrated and nourished, besides providing psychological support all along.
The beautiful weather, together with the late nightfall will help to encourage the cyclists not to lose hope in today’s very long cycle, a ride that, for some might end as late as midnight or even later. Then, it will be a hot meal and off to sleep after their aching muscles being attended to in preparation for tomorrow’s ride.
Day 6 Korgen – Fauske 217kms
Yesterday’s long ride of 270km left its toil on the cyclists, with the last two cyclists clocking in at 1am. Even the fast teams were feeling the brunt of the challenge. For this reason, it was decided that the team leave at 10am for today’s ride in spite of having to cover 217 km to reach Fauske, where again many are expected to come in late.
However, one had to choose between, either arriving in late or having the cyclists too exhausted to ride. Indeed, the two extra hours’ rest helped to lift up the cyclists’ spirits, most of whom are now feeling more optimistic, now that they have started the second phase of the Life Cycle Challenge.
Today’s route again had a number of climbs although most were not so steep as in the previous days. There were also a number of tunnels along the route, the longest one being 1.2 km. However, today’s main attraction remained the team’s arrival at the Arctic Circle, after having pedaled 124km from Korgen. There, they received a certificate and could even have their passport stamped, then set off again after a 45min break.
Today’s weather was more typical of the Arctic Circle, with grey skies and a light drizzle but certainly none of the cold that had been dreaded. Still, such weather could hamper the cyclists’ progress and may at times be dangerous. The cyclists will have to carry the appropriate apparel, albeit as lightweight as possible to avoid becoming cold and wet.
Unfortunately, another cyclist dropped out today, a cyclist who had won the admiration of the whole team since he had gone much out of his way to help and encourage Vicky Degaetano, until she retired yesterday. Despite severe knee pain, he continued ahead trying to make up for the lost time, but was advised not to continue, by the medical team.
Day 7 Fauske – Narvik 243kms
The team left the local school of Fauske in cold and rainy weather, that had persisted since yesterday’s fourth checkpoint at the Arctic Circle, with the temperature dropping down to below 10 º C. Cold and dripping, the cyclists entered the first checkpoint in very low spirits dreading the long day ahead predicting even worse weather as the cyclists continued to climb up further north.
Today, the route consisted of over 20 tunnels, with three of them being over 4km long!! This created another problem as the cyclists could not take any other route since there was no bicycle lane. So again, the support group had to stay very close to the cyclists to alert the oncoming cars by flashing their hazard lights, and trying to slow down traffic.
Two mobile tents were set up, whenever there was need to stop, while the back up team had to provide extra support today as some cyclists were almost giving in. Indeed, one could only admire these heroes as they plodded on in such adverse weather conditions.
Today’s route again consisted of some very steep uphills and undulating terrain. As can be expected, there was a number of mechanical problems, with the bikes being fixed en route, and at the night’s accommodation in Narvik, such maintenance being continued late at night, when the last cyclists would be coming in.
Up to the time of this write up, two other cyclists had dropped out of the Travelex Lifecycle Challenge, showing how tough it is, especially when one considers that one of today’s dropouts – Stefan Bezzina had managed to finish last year’s challenge, together with Shanel Attard, Graziella Santillo and Nikolai Pace – another three of this year’s dropouts.
Day 8 Narvik – Kiruna 174kms
The Travelex Life Cycle Challenge today again had a late wake up call, with the first team leaving Narvik Parken Skol at 10am. After the past three exhausting days, everyone welcomed the much needed two hours extra rest.
Again, the team left in bitterly cold and rainy weather; the cyclists were drenched to the skin and trembling with cold as they entered the first checkpoint at the Swedish Border. The cold weather persisted throughout the day, although thankfully the rain stopped, making it less difficult to cycle in spite of the cold.
Today’s route was only 174km, with 3 checkpoints, a welcome break from the previous days’ long mileage. The terrain was also less hilly, another positive point to encourage the cyclists not to lose hope until they reached their destination in Kiruna Sweden.
Still, another cyclist, – John Xuereb had to stop. John had also managed to finish last year’s challenge and it was a big disappointment for him to have to stop.
The landscape today was mainly wild, although the team passed through Lappland in the Vavetjakka National Park and the Abisco National Park. After passing through the villages of Stenbacken Tornetrask and Bergforfs, it was another wild terrain until they reached Kiruna with its famous iron ore mines.
Tomorrow, the team crosses over to Finland, where with just two days to go, the remaining cyclists are already envisaging their entry to Rovaniemi and the end of the challenge. However, a small number of cyclists are concerned that they might not be within the timeframe of the challenge. Hopefully, these heroic cyclists will also be successful after having had to endure so many long hours on the bike, most of them with injuries and saddle soreness.
Day 9 Kiruna – Pello 243kms
At 5.30am, the Malmfältens Folkhögskola was already bustling with activity as the Travelex Lifecycle Challenge entered its ninth and penultimate day. The day dawned bright and clear auguring a beautiful day, a stark contrast to yesterday’s bitterly cold and rainy weather.
Another long day is predicted today with 248 km to ride before reaching Pello in Finland, thus today’s weather was welcomed by all the team, some of whom are again expected to finish late.
Today’s journey saw long flat roads with no break in the rural surroundings save for some small villages dotted along the countryside. The cyclists took advantage of the flat roads to cycle at their own pace and to relieve their aching muscles, a welcome break although most cyclists were complaining that the scenery was too bland and monotonous and they preferred the mountainous route of Norway!!!
Fourty nine cyclists are presently still in the challenge and these are determined to remain so in spite of their injuries and saddle sores. Hopefully, tomorrow will see them all enter Rovaniemi, even though there may be a small number who may not be within the time frame of the challenge.
Day 10 Pello – Rovaniemi 100kms
Today, there was no need of a wake up call as all the cyclists woke up early, eager to start their last part of the Travelex Life Cycle Challenge – a ride that would take them from their accomodation in Pello right up to Rovaniemi – the hometown of Santa Claus.
The camp was buzzing with excitement as the cyclists made their last minute arrangements with the support team checking the bikes and the medical team massaging and treating sore and tired bodies. Physcological support was not lacking, not only from the back up team, but also the cyclists themselves reminding each other that the worst was over and that they would all make it to Rovaniemi.
The teams started leaving at 8am, proudly displaying the Maltese flag, one cyclist having stayed up till 1 am, painstakingly decorating the wheels with red and white ribbons.
The weather was warm and sunny, auguring a beautiful day and a wonderful ending to one of the toughest Life Cycle challenges. The visibility was very good, thus the cyclists could enjoy the view around them, even though they might have preferred a more picturesque one rather than the endless stretches of road packed with trees on either side. The sight of deer grazing, just after the first checkpoint, was a most welcome sight, once again injecting enthusiasm and eagerness to arrive at their final destination.
About 8km away from Rovaniemi, the Travelex Life Cycle Team met at the Arktikum, where they found the press waiting to greet them. From there on, it was one whole group, riding all together escorted by a police motorcycle. It was indeed an incredible sight with the cyclists cheering and proudly waving Maltese Flags as they all rode en masse to Santa Town where they were proudly cheered in by the whole support team.
Indeed a stunning finish to an incredible challenge – a Challenge full of challenges, where even experienced and past cyclists had felt the strain. 49 cyclists managed to finish the challenge, but hats off to the ten cyclists who dropped out because of their injuries and who kept on supporting their team mates, despite their disappointment. Following this great moment, they all went to the Santa Claus Post Office where they handed in the letters sent by the children of Malta and Gozo. In return, Santa Claus and his elves will be sending a reply to all the children who wrote out their wish and gave a Lm2 donation to Life Cycle.
The team then left for their accommodation in Rovaniemi, where they set to work on packing their bikes. And finally, a well-deserved celebratory meal where they could finally relax and eat all together, without worrying about, or dreading the next day.
The Travelex Life Cycle Team will be arriving back in Malta on Saturday 12th August at 7.05am when the Maltese public can go to greet them. Another seven of the team will be taking up the vehicles to Oslo, Norway and will be returning 3 days later.